East Region Breakdown
The East Region might have the highest-number of very good teams in it, and it also features one of the few Tournament favorites in Pittsburgh. Duke won the ACC Tournament title, Villanova and Florida State are playing very well lately, UCLA has reached three straight final fours and Xavier was in the top-10 for much of the season. Simply put, this region has a ton of talented teams – all squads that can win at least a couple of games. Don’t forget about Texas and Tennessee, both of whom were preseason top-10 teams.
Favorite: Pittsburgh. The Panthers have been one of the best teams in college basketball all season long, and they head into the Big Dance playing good basketball, despite the loss to West Virginia in the Big East Tournament. They have one of the best frontcourt duos in the country in DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, as well as an experienced point guard in Levance Fields. There are a plethora of solid role players as well, plus plenty of experience.
Contenders: Duke, Villanova. The Blue Devils have been on a roll since putting Elliot Williams and Lance Thomas in the lineup, and taking out Greg Paulus and Brian Zoubek. Gerald Henderson has developed into an All-American in conference play, while Kyle Singler is a very tough match-up. Jon Scheyer can handle the ball and shoot the three. However, Duke is still poor at defending perimeter penetration. Villanova has plenty of perimeter talent, starting with Scottie Reynolds, who can get hot and shoot this team to the next round. Corey Fisher has improved this season, and Corey Stokes is a shooter. Up front, Dante Cunningham creates match-up problems and is capable of putting up 20 and 10. Furthermore, the Wildcats are playing in the Wachovia Center for the first two rounds – that is basically ‘Nova’s second homecourt.
Sleepers: UCLA, Florida State. UCLA is not the Final Four threat it was predicted to be at the season’s outset, but the Bruins are hitting their stride at the right time and should be not be overlooked in the NCAA Tournament despite their early entrance in the Pac-10 tourney. They are phenomenal shooting team and can score from every position. Darren Collison and Josh Shipp are the go-to-guys on the perimeter, while Jrue Holiday has not lived up to his lofty expecations. Alfred Aboya is much-improved down low, and Nikola Dragovic is an inside-outside threat. Florida State is not the most explosive offensive team in the world, but the Seminoles play outstanding defense and they have Toney Douglas. Douglas was one of the best players in the ACC season long, at both ends of the floor. Uche Echefu and Chris Singleton are solid up front, and Solomon Alabi can defend and rebound. Derwin Kitchen adds athleticism on the perimeter.
Non-BCS Teams to Watch: VCU, Xavier. There’s only six non-BCS teams in this region, so the pickings are slim. However, VCU is once again a threat to reach the second round by upsetting a historical power. The Rams don’t force as many turnovers as they used to, but they are very solid at both ends. Eric Maynor is still one of the best point guards in the country, and he can carry this team. Larry Sanders is a shot-blocker down low with a developing offensive game. Joey Rodriguez can shoot and handle the ball, while Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozell bring quickness. Kiril Pishchalnikov is a banger. Xavier won the Atlantic-10 regular season, but struggled down the stretch. As most Musketeer teams are, this year’s version is very balanced, with three guys averaging between 10.2 and 13.8 points, and another five putting up between 5.6 and 7.2 points per game. B.J. Raymond can really shoot, while C.J. Anderson is a tough match-up. Derrick Brown is an athletic freak who can finish with the best of them. Point guard has been a question mark.
Upset Pick: Portland State over Xavier. I think that Portland State was overseeded and should be a No. 14 or No. 15 after winning the Big Sky tournament championship. However, the Vikings have already defeated Gonzaga this year on the road and also lost at Washington by just one point. Xavier has been struggling lately, and could be primed for an upset. The Musketeers turn the ball over a lot, which could turn into points at the other end for a talented and balanced PSU team.
Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh
2. Toney Douglas, Florida State
3. Gerald Henderson, Duke
4. Eric Maynor, VCU
5. Darren Collison, UCLA